Insurance Advice for After the Storm

Homeowners and businesses should follow these steps if their properties were damaged by this weekend's hurricane.

Picking up the pieces after a natural disaster can be difficult – especially if your property’s had heavy damage. Even if your home has been properly insured, there are still steps that need to be taken to ensure a timely response from your insurance company. Here’s some advice from the New York Insurance Department:

--The first thing you should do is notify your insurance company of the loss. Although you can do this by telephone, the New York Insurance Department recommends following up in writing to create a paper trail. Remember to notify your insurer, not the broker who sold you the policy. If you do notify your broker, it’s still your responsibility to make sure he follows up with the insurer.

--Protect your property. Board up broken windows to protect your home from further damage, burglary or vandalism. The out-of-pocket expense you incur for this should be covered by your policy, and would be reimbursed.

--The New York Insurance Department advises against making permanent repairs, however; your insurer needs to send an adjuster over to inspect the property first. The insurer can legally refuse to pay for damage that has been repaired before inspection.

--The adjuster will examine the damage and make an estimate on the cost of repairs. You might also want to get an estimate from your contractor to compare with the insurer’s estimate.

--If you feel you need to negotiate a settlement with your insurance company, you may want to hire an attorney or a licensed public adjuster. Public adjusters, who are licensed by the New York Insurance Department, will help you take inventory of the damage, secure your property and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Remember, public adjusters may charge no more than 12.5 percent of the recovery amount obtained from the insurer.

--If you can’t reach an agreement with your insurer, remember that New York state law provides for a disinterested appraisal process. You and your insurer can each select a qualified appraiser. Those appraisers select an umpire, who settles any disagreements in the appraisers’ valuations. The costs for this process are split between you and your insurer.

For more information, visit the New York Insurance Department.

While the storm is still over New York, the possibility remains that parts of the state may be declared federal disaster areas. In that case, property owners may be eligible for a low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. These loans are available to homeowners, businesses and nonprofit organizations to replace real estate, personal property or business assets destroyed in a declared disaster. You can even apply for a loan online.

Renters and homeowners are eligible to borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property destroyed in a disaster and up to $200,000 to repair or replace their residence. The loans can’t be used to upgrade your home (unless an upgrade is required by building code) – just to restore it to its original condition. Second homes and vacation properties don’t qualify – although rental properties may fall under the SBA’s business loan program.

Businesses – regardless of size – can apply for disaster loans of up to $2 million to repair or replace lost business assets. Even if your business wasn’t physically damaged in the disaster, you may be eligible for a loan to offset the economic injury suffered in the aftermath.

For more information, call the SBA’s customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Katherine September 01, 2011 at 10:15 PM
I highly recommend you hire a Public Adjuster to help you in dealing with your insurance company. A Public Adjuster works for YOU, not the insurance company. Below is a link to an amazing company I've had the pleasure of dealing with in the past. http://nfa.com/
Eddie November 28, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Before you make any claim, ask yourself if it's worth the increased premiums you will be charged from this point on. If you have a good insurer and your damage is limited, it may be financially wise to eat the expense to avoid the increased rates. While this may go against the grain of some people, I know many who have claimed several thousand dollars, only the see their rates increase by $1700 per year. The increase quickly offsets the payout. My homeowners' premiums are all under $500. Why? No claims in 30 years. You have to look at the full picture before you possibly shoot yourself in the foot. The best route -- discuss it with a KNOWLEDGEABLE and HONEST broker. Many will only advise the route to the highest premiums for you and the highest commissions for him.
Lloyd November 28, 2011 at 02:51 PM
My broker told me the same thing, Eddie. I made too many small, but totally legitimate, property loss claims and I was on the verge of getting a big premium surcharge. Or even worse, getting cancelled out and refused renewal. And once you get tossed out for making too many claims, it becomes nearly impossible to find another insurer. They are all in cahoots with each other. So any property loss under around $1500, I would not even report it, and just pay out of my pocket to keep my insurance rates from escalating.
Kevin November 28, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Eddie and Lloyd While I aggree with both of you I hate the way the insurance industry has us "programed" to act. Make a claim and we raise your rates or drop you. The other thing in LI is being droped because you live to close to the water. I would like to go elseware for my auto insurance as I know I could do better but I also know if I "un-bundle" my auto and homeowners my homeowners will be canceled the next year. 30 years and no claims also but worry that someday we all will be unable to insure our homes on LI


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